Thrilling early-round upsets notwithstanding, all eyes at the NCAA tournament are set on the Final Four. The regional champions will tip off on Saturday, April 5, and the chips are on the table with odds for the final 16 teams putting pressure on some and setting challenges for others.
We round up the full schedule, all three simulcasting TV channels, every team's odds and bracket predictions.
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|4/5||Final Four||6 p.m.||TBS, TNT, truTV|
|4/5||Final Four||8:30 p.m.||TBS, TNT, truTV|
|4/7||National Championship||9:10 p.m.||CBS|
TBS will show the Final Four, but fans can catch a special dedicated broadcast for each team on either TNT or truTV. According to CBS Sports (via WUSA9.com):
The Final Four on Saturday, April 5 will be televised on TBS for the first time along with 'teamcasts' or team-specific telecasts airing on TNT and truTV. The National Championship Game on Monday, April 7 will air on CBS for the 33rd consecutive year.
It's safe to say they've got these games covered, so get your popcorn ready. Now who's playing?
|Team (Region)||Seed||Final Four Odds||Title Odds|
|San Diego State (West)||4||5-1||33-1|
|Michigan State (East)||4||3-2||9-2|
|Iowa State (East)||3||4-1||18-1|
OddsShark.com (via Bovada)
Bookmakers at Bovada, via Odds Shark, have Florida, Michigan State, Louisville and Arizona reaching the Final Four, for a pairing of No. 1 seeds and No. 4 seeds. The Gators would face the Spartans while the Cardinals would take on the Wildcats.
Arizona has been weakened by the loss of Brandon Ashley, as shown by the March 8 loss to Oregon and the loss to UCLA in the Pac-12 tournament. That the Wildcats are favorites to emerge from the West is a slight shot at second-seeded Wisconsin's credentials, and the March 9 loss to Nebraska did not help the Badgers' status.
However, Arizona's stingy defense is fifth best in points allowed, and the Wildcats are strong on the glass as well. If they avoid harm from their 65.5 percent free-throw shooting, they could very well take down both Wisconsin and the unsurprising Midwest winners, the Louisville Cardinals.
Regardless of arguments about seeding, it's not surprising to see consensus title pick Michigan State and defending champion Louisville favored to emerge from their regions from the No. 4 slot. The Spartans face a softer matchup in the Elite Eight with No. 2 seed Villanova being ousted by Connecticut.
Everybody on ESPN's bracket special picked No. 4 seed Michigan State to win the title http://t.co/fAIxPKGOBN— For The Win (@forthewin) March 17, 2014
The Michigan Wolverines went all the way to the title game in 2013, but they ended up on a crash course for a rematch of that game against Louisville in the Midwest's Elite Eight. That was a stacked region, and sometimes that happens despite any perceived unfairness (i.e., Wichita State).
Man, this single elimination tournament that purposely generates unpredictable results is being super unfair to Wichita St.— Ethan Strauss (@SherwoodStrauss) March 16, 2014
Ultimately, the tournament is the Gators' to lose. They entered as the top overall seed and remain the favorites to win it all. Should they do so, it would be their first title since the 2007 national championship made it back-to-back titles for the Gators.
Florida head coach Billy Donovan tried to stay reserved in advance of the team's Sweet 16 game with UCLA, saying on Wednesday, per Edgar Thompson of the Orlando Sentinel: "There's no easy exit out of the NCAA tournament."
However, his father, Bill Donovan, stated that the losses get even more devastating the further you get through the bracket:
Billy will tell you and I will tell you, the further you go in the NCAA tournament the losses become harder and harder to accept. People think 'you're out, but you got to the Elite Eight'...no, no. I think if you lose in the first round it's bad. But if you go three, four, five games, it's harder.
No pressure, son!
Florida is coming off losses in the Elite Eight in each of the last three seasons, including last year's 20-point blowout at the hands of Michigan. Anything less than cutting down the nets again would be a failure, but the overall favorites have to take it one game at a time to snap their recent trend of futility in the regional finals.
Despite that track record of falling short since the back-to-back titles, all signs point to this being Florida's year. The Gators have not lost a game since Dec. 2, before most people did their holiday shopping. While the SEC can't compare to the likes of the Big Ten, Florida has the chops to beat the best.
After Pittsburgh trounced Colorado 77-48 in the second round, Florida whipped the Panthers 61-45. The Gators defense plays with discipline and suffocates opponents; the 57.5 points per game allowed to opponents is third best in the nation.
The Gators also have scoring to balance that dreaded defense as five players average at least nine points per game. Casey Prather leads the way with 14.1 points per game and a sparkling shooting percentage of 60.7. Michael Frazier is similarly efficient in averaging 12.5 points on 45.8 percent shooting.
For the first time in seven years, Billy Donovan won't have to worry about an early exit from the tourney. Florida will get by the Spartans and prevail in the national championship over Arizona.